S's latest training goal is to open and close drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. While this may sound simple to us humans, there are a lot of important steps to get to that goal.
First, I taught S to target a piece of tape. Then, I placed that tape on the drawers and cupboards and had her target them all. Instead of sticking to just one drawer, I moved around a lot between drawers and cabinets because I wanted to try generalizing earlier on. This seems to work for her - once she was consistently target the items, I waited for her to actually close them by slamming them shut. In a sense, the sound of the drawer/cabinet slamming became the conditioned reinforcer and I no longer needed the click. That way, she was sure to actually "close it" every time and none of this half-ass stuff she likes to do.
It's coming along beautifully; however, since I am human AND the teacher, I made a mistake. I didn't write down my goals specifically and therefore suffered a bit of muddled instruction. I wasn't clear on what I wanted her to do because, let's face it: I didn't even know what I wanted her to do! The issue was: how am I going to get her to open it when I can barely open the door without her slamming it shut on me!? So we stumbled a bit. She got frustrated with me and whined an awful lot but after I cleared it all up and got my act together, we were back on track.
Where we stand
She knows the cue "Close it" and executes it when I am standing in a neutral location for cabinets. If I should stand more to a certain side, she aligns herself with me and then pushes the door. In the absence of a cue, that is her cue to "open" (no cue yet) and only closes on cue. She is learning to reposition herself in order to push the door closed, which was a HUGE hurdle for us both. Originally, she tried opening the door with her nose and pushing it until it almost split off the hinges. LOL - oopsie!! With the drawer closing, I can be standing anywhere within 3 feet and she understands what I'm asking her.
Where we're going next
I will begin to distance myself from the drawers and place myself in different locations, issuing the cue and expecting her to perform the same behavior as before. I have a feeling opening the drawers is going to be very different from opening the cabinets, so I am going to try and introduce that before I put in the cue to open cabinets. That way, when the cue goes in, it blankets the two behaviors. With the opening/closing: "Close it" is still on cue and she's beginning to understand that if I haven't asked for a "close it", then she needs to push from the other side in order to "open it". We'll see if we're ready for that cue, but I think we'll focus on her understanding the two sides to the cabinet.
The most difficult thing to remember when teaching your dog complicated cues: They don't know spoken words. So, even though the difference between open and closed make perfect sense to us, to them it's just another detail we have to tell them to pay attention to.
Keep you posted!